Helmsmen Series: A Conversation with Justin Der of The Common, Foosh, 9910, and Grandin Fish and Chips
Justin Der, owner of The Common, Foosh, 9910, and Grandin Fish and Chips
What do sneakers, fish and chips, banking, and nightclubs all have in common? You’ll find out in this episode of The Helmsmen Series!
He’s a serial entrepreneur, with 4 heavy-hitting business that he’s grown right here in Edmonton. Owner of Foosh, The Common, 9910, and Grandin Fish and Chips, Justin has the retail, restaurant, and nightclub industries all locked down.
In this Helmsmen episode, we sit down with Justin at Foosh, which has just undergone a major renovation, right on time for their 20th anniversary.
In our conversations, he tells us about how trusting his gut took him from being a DJ and banker to taking over the streetwear world to owning some of the hottest spots to be seen in the city.
Check out the highlights in the video, then dive in to get all the details in the written interview below.
A conversation with Justin Der
Chad: Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get started as an entrepreneur, and why Edmonton?
Justin: I actually grew up here. Born and raised except for a couple years in the late 1990s. I moved to Calgary and then I moved home in 1998 and opened up Foosh.
Chad: From the beginning, as a young kid, did you know you wanted to be a business owner?
Justin: No. I was actually a banker in Calgary. No university. I basically worked in retail my entire life.
Chad: So you’re in retail and all of a sudden a banking opportunity came up.
Justin: Yeah. I did banking for a couple years and I learned a lot, but I got sick of it.
I was a DJ as well in Calgary with my business partner, Rob. He was an engineer, and we were just like, “Are you happy doing what you’re doing? Am I happy? No. Let’s move back home and open up a shop,” which was Foosh. It was half record store, half clothing store.
"Are you happy doing what you’re doing? Am I happy? No. Let’s move back home and open up a shop."
Chad: I feel like there was a fairly clear vision of what you wanted Foosh to be from the beginning. What was that?
Justin: We kind of catered to a lot of the DJs back in the day, and we wanted to bring in clothes that weren’t really featured in Edmonton.
The funny thing was, when we first started, no one would sell me anything. They were like, “You’re brand new, we don’t know you, you have zero credit. Who are you and why do you want these brands? No, we’re not selling to you.”
Once we got a couple years in, clothing brands were like, “You know what, you're a pretty cool shop. We’ll sell to you.”
"The funny thing was, when we first started, no one would sell me anything."
Chad: So it was kind of a mashup of the fashion culture that you wanted to foster, and music. What made you choose Edmonton?
Justin: This is our hometown. Every weekend we would come home from Calgary to hang out with our family and friends. We didn’t really hang out with Calgarians. We hung out with other Edmontonians that moved to Calgary, so it was just natural to move home. We had the support of our friends and family, so why not do it in Edmonton? And I’m glad we did. This city’s rad.
Chad: Why is that?
Justin: The people, the support. There are shakers and movers here. Glen Suggitt--he owns Plush--he’s been doing it for 26 years. Gravity Pope, you guys, Derks. It’s a really good community, and I think that we all support each other. We all do different things, but we all want the city to grow. I think we all have the common goal of making the city better.
"We all do different things, but we support each other and we all want the city to grow. I think we all have the common goal of making the city better."
Chad: In ‘99 you opened Foosh, and then The Common followed. Two totally different businesses.
Justin: 100%. We kind of knew that we wanted to do a bar/restaurant. We just needed the right opportunity. My partner Kyla, who owns Bamboo Ballroom, she’s been working in bars her entire life. The first Common, on 124 Street, was a super small location. It kind of fell in our lap.
10 years later, we got the bigger location on 109 Street. It’s been a learning curve for me. I didn’t know the background of owning a restaurant until we got into it.
Chad: Baptism by fire.
"It’s been a learning curve for me. I didn’t know the background of owning a restaurant until we got into it."
Chad: And you and Kyla have a new addition to your family now!
Justin: Yes! 5 months, Stevie, this little baby girl. She’s the best
Justin: Thank you, she’s awesome.
Chad: So you’ve got all these businesses to care for thinking that they meant the world, and all of a sudden you have a little girl. How does that feel?
Justin: Awesome. Being a dad is rad. It’s super rad. She comes with me to work.
"Being a dad is rad."
Chad: You’ve got another milestone coming up, too.
Justin: June 22nd! Our 20th anniversary at Foosh. We’ve seen Whyte Ave change from a lot of retail stores to a lot of donair shops, so it’s huge and it’s pretty cool.
Trends are weird. Retail is not easy. You have to be able to figure out what your customer wants, or figure out what they don’t know that they want.
When we started doing sneakers, nobody knew anything about sneaker culture or collecting shoes. In order to stay on top, you’ve got to be able to predict what’s going to happen next, and you have to have the right people in place.
"Trends are weird. Retail is not easy. You have to be able to figure out what your customer wants, or figure out what they don’t know that they want."
Chad: The right people internally?
Justin: Yeah, having a good team that understands your vision is important. When I was doing a lot of the buying here, I would be on blogs nonstop checking to see what’s cool. Back in the day I was a sneaker collector too.
Now that I’m 43 I don’t do that anymore, so I have employees who get up, have their coffee, and check out the blogs. They’ll say, “Hey, I want to pick up this new line. What do you think?” My first question for them is, “Is it fire?” And if it is, I give them a budget and they go for it.
Like Mac, who’s been with us for 3 years, he’s 21, and his whole life right now is finding the new cool shit. He’s on top of it. That’s how I used to be when I started, and he’s now going to be carrying the Foosh vision forward. It’s nice to have these young guys come in and be super stoked about the shop.
"My first question is, 'Is it fire?' And if it is, I give them a budget and they go for it."
Chad: What’s your approach to keeping a balanced, curated product selection that’s on the edge but also tailored to the customers?
Justin: Back when I was buying, I would buy whatever I would wear, which is not the greatest approach. We would have some awesome hits and some terrible misses. Terrible misses! But that’s the name of the game, and that’s the fun part.
Just last week we had a kid line up at 3 in the morning, Friday night after the bar, and waited outside for the Jordan drop. That’s big city stuff.
"Back when I was buying, I would buy whatever I would wear... We would have some awesome hits and some terrible misses."
Chad: Does Edmonton ever surprise you with what they’re interested in?
Justin: Totally, all the time. We’ll bring in unknown brands and surprisingly, these things will sell super well. Kids are online doing their own research, and they’ll find us.
Chad: There’s a very culture-forward approach that I get the impression you guys value, whether it’s in your business here at Foosh, or The Common, or the club, or the fish and chips spot. Was that organic, or did you have a clear plan for each place?
Justin: No, it kind of just happened. With Foosh, and the whole sneaker culture, we knew we wanted to go in that direction. When it came to The Common, the only thing I knew that I wanted was to bring in DJs that I wanted to see, and then the rest kind of followed.
For the food side of things, we kind of knew what we wanted but we didn’t have any culinary experience. Jesse, who is our head chef and a business partner with us, he’s an old school BBoy. So we all kind of clicked, with the idea of music. He came on board and created an awesome menu, and he keeps creating awesome menus.
9910 was more of a venue. Live music was getting popular. Again, we thought, let’s open up something and try to bring that to the city. We just kind of created this mini little eco system of ours.
"When it came to The Common, the only thing I knew that I wanted was to bring in DJs that I wanted to see, and then the rest kind of followed."
Chad: When it comes to entrepreneurship, who do you look up to?
Justin: Other Edmonton businesses. Basically homies doing stuff for the city, which to me, is rad. It’s an awesome community in Edmonton, and we kind of lift everyone up.
Chad: Your businesses all have a certain aesthetic. Is your personal style as dialled in?
Justin: I like to play around a little bit. Whatever the kids tell me is cool now, I’ll wear. My whole thing right now is Dad Life. Comfy.
"Whatever the kids tell me is cool now, I’ll wear. My whole thing right now is Dad Life."
Chad: You’ve contributed significantly to the culture of our city already. Any plans for new ventures?
Justin: Nothing yet, but we’re always kind of looking. If something comes across my desk, I’m willing to take a look at it.
Chad: What kind of project would interest you?
Justin: Maybe another restaurant or venue. Maybe commercial real estate. Ultimately it would be cool to own a boutique hotel and host pool parties. Something neat.
Chad: I love it. Well, congratulations on 20 years with Foosh and on all your success on 109 Street! Thanks for spending the morning with us.